"SMG is uniquely qualified to serve the equestrian market on a national scale," the company's website boasts. "Whether it is dressage, jumping or roping, SMG knows the components required. As equestrian organizations plan their national circuit, SMG-run venues head to the top of their list because promoters know that SMG will make sure that the right conditions exist at every facility."
Birdsall said parks and recreation officials hope those connections will increase use of the Equestrian Park, which has operated for 40 years at 2100 W. 11400 South.
Her boss, division director Michele Nekota, said the five-year contract will save the county $80,000 annually and that patrons will get "an even better experience under this management arrangement."
SMG General Manager Dan Hayes said the county's investments in the Equestrian Park and its enthusiasm for making the facility a regional and national attraction spurred SMG's interest.
"When there's that kind of excitement for a venue, we get excited about those projects, too, and we jump at them," he said, noting that SMG has long-standing relationships with national-level equestrian associations and corporations that sponsor horse-related ventures.
"We really hope we can leverage those things and help change the success at the Equestrian Center," Hayes added. His team is now evaluating the facility to determine what immediate changes can be made to make it more attractive, such as adding show stalls for events and RV parking for people bringing horse trailers to town.
In 2011, a county-appointed task force identified $24 million in improvements to make the Equestrian Park more self-sufficient. Most of those are longer-term measures, Hayes said.
Since SMG will run and staff the Equestrian Park, including bringing in temporary employees to help stage the weeklong county fair, Nekota said efforts are being made to find different positions in county government for the park's eight county employees.